A Sci-Fi Honey Retro Review by Katie

Lifeforce (1985)

Picture if you will today’s #ItCameFromThe80s sci-horror feature: we’re in space, the final frontier. Set to a bombastic score by legendary composer Henry Mancini, larger-than-life opening credits whoosh across the screen in a manner befitting any ambitious intergalactic opera. Are you excited yet? Based on the crudely titled The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, director Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985) initially looks and feels like a film that’s going to be both visually compelling and viscerally terrifying – and for a while, it succeeds on both fronts. 

With a proven track record in horror (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), Hooper seemed poised to deliver a potent sci-fi film whose evil otherness centered on vampirism rather than redneck cannibals or child-snatching spirits. As the film wears on, however, much of its early promise degenerates into a muddled hodgepodge of themes and ideas, giving way to an increasingly bumpy and bizarre journey through a London under siege by seductive soul-sucking space vamps. 

If you like your sci-fi to be extra batty, here’s a plot especially for you: a space shuttle crew is tasked with investigating an unidentified object embedded inside Halley’s Comet, where they discover three nude humanoid aliens encased in crystalline coffins. While transporting the bodies to Earth for testing, the ship is destroyed in a fire and four survivors remain: American astronaut Tom Carlsen, played by Steve Railsback (our ‘hero,’ who has also played both Charles Manson and Ed Gein), as well as the three alien vampires, played by two hard-bodied men and one smoking-hot lady known only as ‘Space Girl.’ Tom is irresistibly drawn to Space Girl, as is every man who lays his eyes on her – one even describing her as “the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I have ever encountered.” Did I mention that she’s completely nude in practically all of her scenes, and every man wants to lay more than just their eyes on her? Too bad that her idea of sucking face is actually sucking the very essence of life from their bodies, leaving shriveled, desiccated corpses in her naked wake.

Hey, buddy. Eyes up here.
Though it seems impossible, Lifeforce only gets more far-out from there. Space Girl’s victims bring forth a plague of emaciated zombies, and scientists must use Carlsen’s psychic love connection to her to track her down as she shapeshifts and body-snatches her way to London by way of lethal seduction. A precursor to extraterrestrial femme fatales like Sil (Species) and The Female (Under the Skin), Space Girl’s titillating villainy allows Lifeforce to explore deviant sexual proclivities like masochism and voyeurism; yet Hooper is never able to capture that rare quality of lurid eroticism perfected by filmmakers like David Cronenberg. The most sensual qualities of this film are a) man sees woman naked, then b) describes how aroused he is by her, before c) she drains the existence out of him. The film is often so unevenly paced that that it’s difficult to experience any horror associated with the deliberate carnal temptation of Space Girl and the wanton manipulation of her prey.

Always wear protection with Space Girl; she gets around.
When all devoured souls are beamed to the vampires’ mothership, and it’s discovered how they may be killed (impaled with leaded iron in their “energy center” approximately two inches below the heart, obviously), it gets harder and harder to believe that this bonkers story was adapted by Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon. Some fairly ludicrous lines are uttered by usually capable actors (including a pre-Star Trek Patrick Stewart), and Mathilda May seems to have been cast as Space Girl based on her “assets” alone. Despite all that lunacy, the film is remarkable in a purely aesthetic sense, featuring some of the most impressive effects to come out of the 1980s. The emaciated zombie-vamps are a harrowing sight, their lifeforce leaving their bodies via strobe-like lightning into the bodies of Space Girl and her alien cohorts. The interiors of spaceships have been filmed innumerable times in primarily the same fashion; yet Hooper’s camera manages to make it look organically vivid, infusing the mise-en-scene with warm colors instead of sci-fi’s standard palette of harsh blues and whites. The space sequences in this film are beautifully structured and come to life like a surrealist painting – it’s when Lifeforce lands on Earth that all involved seem to lose their footing.

A bite on the neck is NOTHING compared to this.
When audiences first beheld Hooper’s film in the summer of 1985 – those who craved something more risqué than that week’s other sci-fi release, Cocoon – they saw a version of Lifeforce that was edited down to remove many of the space scenes, as well as any nudity or violence deemed excessive. Thanks to the miracle of DVDs, Hooper’s 116-minute ‘international cut’ is available in all its naked, violent glory. Today it is most likely embraced as a cult classic precisely for how absurd it is, appreciated by fans of any tawdry cinematic fare that epitomizes the outrageous style of the era from which it came. I should just leave my nitpicking by the wayside and be one of those fans, but there just wasn’t enough of what the film did really well to appease this discerning Sci-Fi Honey. Enjoy it for what it is, but don’t expect transcendence from a film about naked vampires traversing the galaxy inside a comet.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three life-sucking space vamps out of five.

Lifeforce  is available on iTunes, & Shout! Factory blu-ray/DVD

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